WINFIELD, W.Va. -- As jury selection began Tuesday in the class-action lawsuit seeking medical monitoring for those who may have been exposed to hazardous chemicals produced at Monsanto's former Nitro plant, the judge expanded a gag order on the lawyers prohibiting comments to the media.
"No lawyer is to discuss anything about the case," said Mercer County Circuit Court Judge Derek Swope. "If asked, you are to have no comment, end of story."
Swope's comments came after Monsanto lawyers filed a motion Tuesday asking him to hold lead plaintiff attorney Stuart Calwell in contempt of court for comments he made concerning the case to the Gazette and other local media outlets.
The judge did not immediately rule on the motion, but indicated he would hear arguments and rule later.
Swope was appointed to hear the case after Putnam Circuit Judge O.C. Spaulding was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease and retired at the end of the year.
Lead Monsanto lawyer Charles M. Love III, of the Charleston firm Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love, filed the motion reciting various comments attributed to Calwell, which he claims violated a gag order entered by Judge Spaulding in October 2008.
However, Spaulding's earlier ruling only ordered lawyers not to "initiate contact with any member of the media for the purpose of making extra-judicial communications that elaborate on any facts of this case or which describe either parties' liability theories, damage theories, or other evidentiary theories."
In his motion, Love also cited orders signed by Swope on Dec. 6 and Dec. 20, 2011, ordering that mediation be "confidential." That order was not sealed, however, and public announcements about the mediation were posted at the Charleston Marriott, site of the mediation.